Snapshots from The Cotswolds

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I just got back from a sweet little weekend away with my family driving around The Cotswolds – stomping through fields, getting lost down farm lanes, scoffing pub curries and wandering through pretty little limestone villages (…oh and also getting rained on by shotgun pellets…).  It was cold and most definitely welly weather – but it was nice to get away for a couple of days.  We stayed just outside Cirencester – on the edge of Cotswold’s Water Park where we walked around a couple of lakes and followed a trail alongside The Thames (only a tiny, very clean-looking river this far outside of London).  Then yesterday we drove to beautiful Castle Combe for a sunny (but cold!) stroll around the village where Stardust and Doctor Dolittle were filmed. 🙂

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Have a lovely week! 🙂

Mini Nutella Palmiers

Nutella Palmiers

Happy Saint Dwynwen’s Day!  Or, for the uninitiated, Welsh Valentines Day!  I went into a little bit more detail on why exactly we celebrate Valentines Day a little earlier than the rest of the world here in Wales in this post (along with a little recipe for Blood Orange Doughnuts 🙂 ) – but it’s basically a Game of Thrones-esque story about a time when Kings had 24 daughters and princesses routinely ran off into the woods and turned their lovers into blocks of ice.  As you do.  😉

For me, I celebrate it in much the same way I’d celebrate Valentines Day; I hunt down a non-soppy card and hand it to him first thing in the morning along with something sweet that I’ve baked.  This year we’re heading off on a little road trip for the weekend so I wanted to make something bite-sized that we can scoff in the car – so I made these sweet little Palmiers filled with Nutella.  They’re as easy to make as rolling some puff pastry and cracking open a jar of Nutella (something I’m very, very good at…) and almost look like hearts… well, I tried! 🙂

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Mini Nutella Palmiers

Ingredients

  • Ready-made Puff Pastry
  • Plenty of Nutella
  • Icing Sugar
  1. Roll out your puff pastry until it’s about half a centimeter thick and then cut off the rough edges so your sheet is shaped like a rectangle.  Thinly spread (and rarely do I use the word “thinly spread” when Nutella is concerned…) your Nutella over the sheet, making sure you go right up to the edges.
  2. To roll your palmiers, think scroll; carefully roll each end into the middle until you’ve got what looks like a rolled up scroll.  Pop it in the fridge to chill for an hour, and then cut it into rounds about a centimeter thick with a sharp knife.  
  3. Spread the palmiers out evenly on a baking tray and then bake in the oven for 10 minutes at 220°.
  4. Leave to cool, then dust with icing sugar.

Nutella Palmiers

Happy St Dwynwen’s Day!

Cheat’s Mango Chicken

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You know me, I’m a big fan of fresh and fuss free mid-week meals, but then isn’t everyone?  Whenever I sit down to do my meal planning for the week and ask Sunny if he’s got any requests when it comes to dinners then 9 times out of 10 I’ll get that super specific but mostly unhelpful answer, “I don’t know, *shrugs* something with rice?”  So we tend to eat a lot of curries and a lot of stir fries – and d’you know what?  I’m not even mad about that because they’re so quick and easy to whip up, especially in the middle of the week – and they’re (mostly) pretty healthy.

But, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut cooking the same two or three things each week.  So.  I’ve slowly been upping my “homemade takeaway game”.  I make a mean plate of Singapore Noodles and – more recently – a cracking bowl of Thai Noodle Soup and now I’m bringing this super satisfying (and stupidly simple) plate of Mango Chicken to the table.  It’s as easy as opening a jar of Mango Chutney!  Sweet and sticky and perfect if you fancy a change from your usual Sweet and Sour Chicken.  You can even switch out the chicken for battered cod or scampi if you fancy.  Boom! 😉

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Cheat’s Mango Chicken (serves 2)

Ingredients

  • 300g jar of mango chutney
  • 100ml water
  • 150g diced mango
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • a handful of chopped spring onions
  • 250g of battered chicken breast meat (if you want to make things easy, then buy it already battered – if not, I’d recommend giving this recipe a go; it’s not as tricky as you think!)
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  1. Pour the vegetable oil into your wok and get it smoking hot.  Stir fry the pepper, mango and spring onions for five minutes.
  2. Pour in the contents of the mango chutney.  Pour the water into the jar and swill it around to collect the dregs, then pour into the wok – stirring to combine.
  3. Let it bubble for five minutes and reduce down, then stir in the battered chicken.
  4. Serve up with egg fried rice.  Yum!  🙂

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What’s your favourite kind of midweek meal?  Let me know in the comments – I’m always trying to find new favourites!  Have a great week! 🙂

 

Tips and Tricks for Beating Insomnia

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A couple of weeks before Christmas, I couldn’t sleep.  No – before you ask – it wasn’t because I was buzzing with excitement for the big day and that bloke with the beard to sneak a little something for me under the tree (…I’m talking about Sunny, obvs) – I just couldn’t sleep.  It started off with the odd night where I’d roll over at 4am and then struggle to get back to sleep, but before long even nodding off in the first place was impossible.  I was starting to even dread getting into bed (my favourite thing!) because I knew that I’d just be staring up at the ceiling waiting in vain to drop off.  I’d put up with it for an hour or so before I ended up throwing the duvet off and stomping downstairs, scowling at Sunny who was snoring away so easily (how dare he!?).  It actually got so bad that I became stressed; I’d burst into tears of frustration because I was SO BLOODY TIRED and desperately needed to GET SOME SLEEP – so why couldn’t I!?  Insomnia.  Ugh.  We’ve all been there, right?

I’m not sure what exactly triggered my little Christmas special episode of insomnia, but when I found myself listening to Stephen Fry talking about lavender fields at 3am and still wasn’t nodding off – I knew I had press the reset button on my nightly routine.  I did a lot – a loooooot – of research (…zombie-eyed googling at 2am, 3am and 4am) in the midst of my little sleep crisis, and eventually something “clicked” into place and I did nod off.  What it was specifically, I can’t say – but here’s how I adjusted my routine… 🙂

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Full disclosure?  I DID NOT WAKE UP LIKE THIS.  My husband should be so lucky. Ha!

…During the Day

If you think a nightly routine only applies to the evening, think again!  What you eat and drink – as well as what you do and think – during the day all have an effect on whether you’ll get a good night’s sleep the moment your head hits the pillow.

1. Keep Your Mind Busy but Stress-free: 

Sometimes stress isn’t the problem, but eliminating it from your day will always be helpful when it comes to getting a solid eight hours at night – so give yourself a break!  Stay physically and mentally active, get in some light exercise (but no later than 7pm as it raises core body temperature) and keep your mind busy – for me, that’s always by doing something creative like baking, writing or taking photographs. 🙂

2. Avoid Napping:

If you’ve had a week of rubbish, interrupted sleep then the temptation to sneak in a couple of hours during the day is going to be tough to resist. But resist, you must!

3. Say Goodbye to Caffeine after 2pm: 

During those desperate, sleepless nights I read a couple of articles that suggested cutting caffeine out completely.  I was desperate, but not that desperate – no way was I saying goodbye to my morning cuppa. But, I did have a little bIt of a wake-up call (literally, ha!) on just how much caffeine I was taking in every day.  So I swapped out my afternoon brew of darjeeling for chamomile tea and cut down on chocolate too (yep, sadly chocolate has caffeine in it, who knew?).

4. Eat Foods that are high in Melatonin: 

So, melatonin is a hormone that works to control your body clock – most importantly, your sleep cycle.  The level of melatonin in your body rises in the late afternoon – preparing you for sleep – and then drops in the morning – causing you to wake.  The amount of melatonin your body produces can be disrupted by the lack of daylight in the winter, but also the food you eat.  Honey, Walnuts, Cow’s Milk, Cherries, Bananas, Yoghurt, Oats, Chicken and Leafy Greens all naturally contain Melatonin – so try and weave them into your diet for a better night’s sleep. 🙂

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…An Hour Before Bedtime

I’m a stickler for routine – I love having a specific bed time every night, and keeping a consistent schedule helps your body’s natural rhythms.  I like to head off to bed at 10pm (not even embarassed by that, I love being in bed early!) with a mind to nodding off before 11pm.  But a whole hour before that is probably what you’d call “winding down” time where I start readying myself for a good night’s sleep.

1. Minimize Screen Time: 

Time to put the phone down and dim the lights.  Blue light especially, which is emitted by mobile phone screens, computers and televisions tricks the body into thinking that it’s daylight (remember, Melatonin levels rise when it’s dark…), so it’s time to switch off – literally.

2. Make Yourself some Moon Milk:

Moon Milk – if you’ve never heard of it – is basically just an instagrammable cup of warm milk (“Hot Milk, but make it Instagram!”)… with an added melatonin boost thanks to a few extra (pretty) ingredients.  But hey, it works!  Traditional Ayuverdic Moon Milk contains a ground up, stress-relieving herb called Ashwagandha – but, you can add any melatonin-rich ingredient you like.  Mine’s made from cow’s milk, a tablespoon of honey and a good glug of cherry juice which gives it it’s dreamy pink colour.

3. Take a Bath or a Hot Shower:

There’s a little bit more science to this one than you’d think.  Yes, baths and hot showers are relaxing – but it’s all about body temperature.  Your core body temperature needs to drop before you can drift off – so, in theory, jumping into a hot shower an hour before you hit the sack will encourage that drop once you get out of the steam and into a cooler room.

4. Write down your Worries:

We’ve all been there. You’ve had a long day, you’re tired and ready to hit the hay, but as soon as your head hits the pillow the world and its worries start playing on your mind.  So write them down! The trick is, that once you’ve scribbled a worry or distracting thought down onto paper, you’re giving yourself permission to stop thinking about it. If you’re not currently worrying about anything (lucky you!) then writing down what’s on your mind will still help focus it ready for sleep – whether that’s simply keeping a diary or writing a to-do list for the next day.

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…Just Before Bedtime

It’s time to turn in.  But what can you do between the moment you head up the apples and pears and when you slip between the sheets to help you nod off more easily when the time comes?

1. Prepare your Bedroom:

So obvious, but make sure your bed is comfortable! That’s about more than just having a comfy mattress; make sure that your quilt isn’t too heavy or hot, the sheets allow your skin to breathe (Sunny’s always joking that I’m like the princess and the pea because I’m a stickler for 100% cotton; it’s cool and breathable – percale just doesn’t cut it for me) and that the pillows support your head.  Make sure the room isn’t too warm (apparently between 18 and 21 degrees is just right) and switch your phone to sleep mode.  Spritz your pillows with a relaxing scent; Sunny swears by the This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray, while I’m a fan of Olbas Oil (the smell reminds me of home and it keeps me breathing through the night).

2. Kick Pets Out of the Bed:

Sorry Bungle! Sunny and I both agreed that our beloved Goldie can roam freely about the house at night and sleep wherever he’s most comfortable – but when it comes to bedtime, our bed is out of bounds.  He takes up a lot of room!  He can jump up first thing in the morning, but not last thing at night.

3. Listen to Music/Meditate/Read a Book:

Everyone’s got their own way of slowing down their mind and nodding off, whether that’s reading a book, listening to a playlist of calming music or even meditating.  Before Christmas I tried a few sleep apps with guided meditations and relaxing stories – but honestly? None of them worked for me.  There’s tonnes out there though, so if you are struggling to switch off, give them a shout.

4. Herbal Remedies:

I’ve got some tablets that I picked up in America for when I can’t sleep; they work for the odd night where I’m struggling to sleep due to pain or illness, but they’re not the sort of thing you’d take every night during a bout of insomnia and don’t do anything to get you back to your natural sleep cycle. Over Christmas I tried the Bach Rescue Remedy Drops for the first time after hearing good things, and I did feel like they helped to relax me and – in the very least – alleviate my anxiety around falling sleep.  You can either pop a couple of drops straight onto your tongue, or spike your bedtime drink. 🙂

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…In Bed

The whole catch around falling asleep is that it involves doing absolutely nothing!  There’s nothing specific you can do to tell your brain to shut up and switch off, which makes it all the more frustrating when you just can’t get there.  So, what to do?

1. Breathing Techniques:

Again, blinking at my phone at 3am over Christmas I read a little bit about a few techniques that help you slow down your breathing, relax and drift off.  Try the “4-7-8 Technique”:

Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds…
…Hold that breath for 7 seconds…
…Then, breathe out through your mouth for 8 seconds.
Repeat.

2. Don’t Count Sheep!:

IT DOESN’T WORK.  It’s just too easy.  Instead try something a little more difficult, like counting backwards from 100 in threes, or try visualizing specific details of somewhere you went on holiday, a room you know well or a journey you take every day.  Another trick that worked well for me was one where I lay flat on my back and then started clenching and relaxing my muscles one by one for a count of five – from my feet all the way up to my face.  If I wasn’t fast asleep by the time I reached my head, at least I was very, very relaxed.

3. And if you do struggle to fall asleep?  Don’t panic!  Get up, then try again:

If you don’t fall asleep within half an hour, don’t just toss and turn for hours getting more and more frustrated – get up.  Go into a completely different room and read a book, go downstairs and make a hot drink (no caffeine though!), make a list or do a crossword puzzle… and then come back in an hour and try again.

Do you have any tips and tricks when it comes to getting a better night’s sleep?  Let everyone know by commenting below! 🙂

Mozzarella Pupcakes

Peanut Butter and Mozzarella Pupcakes

My bestie turned two yesterday – can you believe it!?  He still acts like a clumsy, playful pup most of the time, only now he’s got 32 kilos of fluff to throw around which – obviously – he completely forgets when he’s charging around the house (…and I’ve got a massive hole in the plasterboard on my staircase to prove it…). Before having a dog, I’d have been one of those people who’d have thought it totally weird to bake a dog birthday cakes. It is a bit weird; I mean it’s just another day to him, right? And he doesn’t know what cakes are! But honestly? He’s such a legend; he makes Sunny and I laugh every single day, cheers us up when we’re feeling low – and just generally makes life a little bit – a lot – better (even when he wipes his butt on the sofa cushions or inhales a whole pile of expensive cheese straight off the kitchen counter…). So why wouldn’t we celebrate and spoil him a bit? He deserves it! 🙂

Bungle only gets these special cheesy Pupcakes on his birthday.  He’s got a couple of food allergies so we’ve got to be careful what we give him – but these I know are safe!  And he loves them!  They’re full of dog friendly ingredients and treats, with a piped cream cheese and peanut butter frosting.  Watch out if your dog can’t handle dairy, though, as these are full of the stuff!

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Pupcakes
“Oh wow! For me?! Thanks, you guys!”

Mozzarella (Mutzzarella?) Pupcakes (makes 6)

Ingredients

  • 200g Self Raising Flour
  • 2 Eggs
  • 50g grated Mozzarella
  • 6 tbsp Natural Yoghurt

For the icing:

  • 200g Cream Cheese
  • 50g Peanut Butter
  1. Set your oven to 170 and lined a muffin tray with paper cases.
  2. In a bowl, mix together the eggs, natural yoghurt and grated cheese, and then fold in the flour.
  3. Separate the mixture into the muffin cases and then bake for 20 minutes.  Leave to cool.
  4. To make the icing, smear the peanut butter down one side of your piping bag, then fill with cream cheese.  Decorate, then allow doggo to devour.  🙂

Peanut Butter and Mozzarella Pupcakes

Have a great week!